A jet fighter from the Su-30 SM
Russian planes could bring down jumbo jets packed with British holidaymakers, Air Chief Marshall Jock Stirrup has saidReuters

Russian war planes skirting British airspace are rehearsing military missions, a top defence chief has warned.

Air Chief Marshall Lord Stirrup said cases of Russian aircraft flying in international airspace near to Britain raise the risk of an air disaster involving civilian flights.

Lord Stirrup spoke up following two incidents in which Russian bombers were spotted perilously close to UK airspace in Hampshire and Cornwall. In the first incident, British Typhoon fighters were forced to escort two giant Russian bombers deep back in to international airspace

In the first incident, British Typhoon fighters were forced to escort two giant Russian bombers deep back into international airspace

Lord Stirrup said the incidents showed Russia was becoming more "aggressive" and that the missions were intended to test Britain's defences.

He raised the terrifying prospect of a Russian military bringing down a civilian jumbo jet in a mid-air collision.

"They are becoming more aggressive. These aircraft – Russian Bears for example – are not going on these very flights simply as joy rides. They are mission rehearsals," he told Sky News.

Russian bomber was carrying nuclear missile
Russian bombers intercepted over English Channel were reportedly 'carrying nuclear missile'Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters file photo

"They are testing us, they are testing our defences, they are testing our reactions and they are engaging to a degree in a game of chicken and that's very dangerous.

"So we are seeing the possibility of mid-air collision, not between RAF and Russia aircraft, but between Russian aircraft and civilian aircraft, increasing."

Lord Stirrup called by boosted defence spending in order to protect Britain from increasing Russian hostility.

Ukraine is bearing the brunt of Russian aggression with Russian-backed rebels – aided by regular army units in disguise - invading eastern Ukraine for territory.

Stirrup said western countries such as Britain could place themselves in "dangerous" position by failing to maintain a credible military force

"Nato over the years, in the eyes of Putin at least, has become weak. Putin views the West as weak all round and that is a very, very dangerous position for us to be in,' he said.

"My concern is that Nato is not spending enough resource on defence. If Nato is weak or is perceived to be weak by Putin then the risk of miscalculation is much greater and our security is much lowered as a result."